Raymond treated us to his memories of WW2 when he was a small boy in NW London. He brought with him his collection of memorabilia including sound recordings accumulated over the years.
When the war started, Raymond was just five and starting school. It was clearly fixed in his mind where the halfway mark was between home and school. If he heard the siren he had to run either home or to school depending on how far he had gone. He and his siblings therefore walked as slowly as possible for the first half and then had to run at top speed so as not to be late. At school the discipline was severe as most of the proper teachers had been called up leaving just the old retired ones. The windows were all taped up because the AC-AC were nearby.
Gas-masks had their uses as a handy weapon to defend yourself or for having fun steaming them up. Raymond had several different styles of gas-mask, but fortunately none had ever been needed. He also had a hand-made crystal wireless set made in 1942 with fine copper wire wound on a toilet roll.
Because of the heavy bombing on Hendon Aerodrome, rather than risk sending their children to Canada, his parents decided to build a shelter by excavating under the house. Raymond was very proud of this air-raid shelter and showed it to his friends. The entrance was via a trapdoor in the kitchen floor. He loved sleeping down there as it was equipped with bulkhead lights and he could pretend he was in a submarine like he had seen in the war films on his weekly trip to the cinema.
His father was an auxiliary fireman so Raymond was aware of their activities: how at fire practice the firemen were dressed in suits and ties and how his father rescued a lady from the top floor when a doodlebug hit Electra house only to find that in the offices below he was treading on a carpet of whisky and gin bottles. There is a plaque in St Paul’s Cathedral commemorating the day his father and the firefighters saved the cathedral from incendiaries during the blitz.
Raymond does not remember ever being frightened, rather he was surrounded by a happy family and did not really understand what was going on. It seems the house was full of people in uniform who would give him hard army chocolate and sometimes sweets from Canada.
By the end of the war he could recite David Copperfield by heart as it was read to them so often. And he remembers the big bonfire in the road the day the war ended and he was ten.